Within the glittering Hapsburg court in Prague lurks a darkness that no one dares mention...
In 1606, the city of Prague shines as a golden mecca of art and culture carefully cultivated by Emperor Rudolf II. But the emperor hides an ugly secret: His bastard son, Don Julius, is afflicted with a madness that pushes the young prince to unspeakable depravity. Desperate to stem his son’s growing number of scandals, the emperor exiles Don Julius to a remote corner of Bohemia, where the young man is placed in the care of a bloodletter named Pichler. The bloodletter’s task: cure Don Julius of his madness by purging the vicious humors coursing through his veins.
When Pichler brings his daughter Marketa to assist him, she becomes the object of Don Julius’s frenzied--and dangerous--obsession. To him, she embodies the women pictured in the Coded Book of Wonder, a priceless manuscript from the imperial library that was his only link to sanity. As the prince descends further into the darkness of his mind, his acts become ever more desperate, as Marketa, both frightened and fascinated, can’t stay away.
Inspired by a real-life murder that threatened to topple the powerful Hapsburg dynasty, The Bloodletter’s Daughter is a dark and richly detailed saga of passion and revenge.
Linda Lafferty: Prague, not Vienna, was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and the center of Europe during Rudolf II's lifetime. Yet relatively little historical fiction has been written about Prague and Bohemia. The sciences, especially astronomy, lit up Rudolf II's court--he collected art and rare plant species from all over the world. But witchcraft, alchemy, and superstition were rampant and religious persecution existed, despite Rudolf II's relatively lenient mindset on faith. When my husband and I hiked through the Czech Republic in 2005, we spent a couple of days in Cesky Krumlov, a Bohemian village. I learned the tale of Rudolf II's mad bastard son, Don Julius, who became romantically involved with Marketa Pichler, a bath maiden in the bathhouse at the foot of Rozmberk Castle.
Q: How much were you able to find out about Marketa? Did she really have secret ambitions to become a doctor?
LL: She was the daughter of a town barber. At that time, barbers were also barber-surgeons, or bloodletters. The villagers relied on the barber to relieve their ailments by balancing the four "humors." The subplot of Marketa's wanting to become a doctor was fiction. Her real story was so sad. She did have the nickname "muscle," and that slur on a 16-year-old made me angry. In my novel, I wanted to lift her up from the sordid life she lived while exploring the relationship between science, religion, and witchcraft.
Q: Marketa is both reviled and fascinated by Don Julius in your book. Do you think she truly fell in love with him?
LL: Given how cruel and difficult life was during the 17th century, I am certain that Marketa--and especially Marketa's family--was desperate to have a relationship with a Hapsburg. She did endure horrible treatment at the hands of Don Julius. They were lovers. Her mother did deliver her to Rozmberk Castle.
Q: The Bloodletter's Daughter touches on the schism between old-fashioned healing practices (bloodletting and witchcraft) and modern medicine. Did you intend for Marketa to embody this duality?
LL: Absolutely. I wanted to show the progression of science born of "witch's remedies" and the study of anatomy. Every science starts somewhere. It is hard to delineate where superstition and folk remedies end and science begins.
Q: The Coded Book of Wonder that Don Julius is obsessed with is based on the Voynich manuscript, a real secret coded document. How did it feel to see it in person? Were you enraptured, too?
LL: "Enraptured" is le mot juste! Through a personal contact and permission from the president of Yale, I had the opportunity to hold it in my hands. I had studied the manuscript so thoroughly on the library's website, I knew exactly which pages I wanted to inspect. It was simply one of the highlights of my life to hold this ancient manuscript.